Innovative coaching device is golfing revolution

Rob Lilley, a teaching pro at the Romanby club in Northallerton in Yorkshire, hits an iron shot during a day at Archerfield so that all the aspects of his swing can be analysed. Picture: Lesley Martin

Rob Lilley, a teaching pro at the Romanby club in Northallerton in Yorkshire, hits an iron shot during a day at Archerfield so that all the aspects of his swing can be analysed. Picture: Lesley Martin

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SO YOU want to be a better golfer? Don’t we all. Advancement is the aim of the game for every hacker. Easier said than achieved of course. Even if the ball spends only 1/2000 of a second on the clubface at impact, doing all the things you need to do (and in the right order) to hit a straight (ish) shot, is, if one stops to think about it, a mind-bogglingly exact task.

Here are just some of the factors involved: Club speed. Smash factor. Attack angle. Club path. Face angle. Face to path. Dynamic loft. Spin loft. Swing direction. Swing plane. Ball speed. Launch angle. Launch direction. Spin rate. Spin axis. Height. Landing angle. Carry. Side. Total. Side total. Last data. Hang time. From pin. Target Score.

Okay, don’t panic. You won’t actually have to ponder any of those 25 parameters. Because Trackman, the device more than 200 tour players routinely use to streamline their practice sessions – including nine of the 12 men who recently carried Europe to yet another Ryder Cup victory – will produce all of the data you require. Perhaps even more usefully, the same machine, by identifying all of the above, will help fit the proper clubs to your swing and tendencies. Just about the only thing it doesn’t do is actually hit the ball. Unfortunately, that’s still down to you.

“Trackman measures exactly what is going on at the point of impact,” explains swing coach Gary Nicol. If you think about it, that is all that really matters in golf. In that sense it’s not that complicated. If you can get the club travelling in the right direction and get the middle of the clubface meeting the middle of the ball, you can at least look more like Rory McIlroy, who is without question the most efficient golfer in the world right now. His numbers prove that.

“Rory is hugely talented, of course. But he has a great understanding of his golf swing, not just the golf swing. He understands his miss. He knows what creates that miss. And, with Trackman, he can fix it very quickly. He has eliminated any guesswork, a factor that helps every golfer. Rory doesn’t waste time changing things that don’t need to be changed.”

Anyway, just last week your intrepid reporter spent a day at the Archerfield Links in East Lothian listening and learning the Trackman way. It was, to say the least, an interesting and eye-opening experience. Perhaps most impressive was the speed at which Nicol was able to apply the Trackman stats and effect almost immediate improvement to previously flawed techniques. Four or five swings were, typically, all it took.

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“The main benefit for the amateur golfer is that a good coach can now find the solution to their swing issues so much quicker and more comprehensively,” says Nicol, based at Archerfield’s Nike Performance fitting Centre. “If you want to hit consistently good shots, it must help to understand what creates those good shots. When you have that understanding, you can then recreate it. That’s so important. What you feel like you are doing is, so often, not what you are doing at all.

“Trackman allows me to shortcut straight to the root cause of any problem. Yes, a quarter of a century of teaching experience helps too, but the diagnosis is so much quicker. By itself, Trackman won’t make anyone a good golf coach. Understanding Trackman has made me a better golf coach. It points me in the right direction. So, instead of knocking on ten doors, I go straight to the right one.”

Hang on, though. Are we saying that the days of grizzled old golf coaches like the late, great Bob Torrance standing on “misery hill” are all but over?

Has golf instruction finally leapt all the way out of art and into science? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding “No.”

“Yes, the feedback you get from Trackman is instant,” contends European Tour winner Raymond Russell. “So you can spot things that golf lessons would typically take longer to identify. That’s great. But the machine is not necessarily a direct substitute for the swing coach. Where it is actually more useful is in the club-fitting realm. It is immediately obvious if, say, a club-head and shaft combination isn’t going to work for you.

“The only problem is if a player starts using Trackman on every shot. To me, that’s overly indulgent. There is still a place for guys who coach – not teach – the swing. Which is not to say that this is not a great tool – it is. It is interesting to see all the numbers. But the danger is getting too wrapped up in it all.”

Still, there is no doubt the cult of Trackman is growing. Disciples are popping up all over the place, even if the cost of just one machine is a cool £16,000.

“I equate the use of Trackman to the use of an MRI scanner,” says Paul McDonald who teaches with it at the Bishopbriggs Golf Range. “If you go to the doctor, he may send you for a scan to confirm his diagnosis. When you do that, the problem is immediately identified. There is no guesswork, educated or not. So the patient is in no doubt. If the problem is in, say, the heart, the patient doesn’t have to ask the consultant to look at the liver or the kidneys. Those possibilities have been eliminated.

“When a golfer goes for a lesson, he or she trusts the coach to be more knowledgeable. That hasn’t changed – and never will – but Trackman adds to the credibility of the message. It confirms what the coach is saying and gives the pupil more confidence, especially those looking for a ‘quick fix’ – which is nearly all of us, of course.”

Indeed, Trackman is certainly quick to eliminate confusion and/or misconception. Nicol tells the story of Ladies European Tour player Vikki Laing. Laing’s bad shot for long enough was apparently a straight pull to the left. And, conforming to the accepted doctrine on such things, the four-times Scottish Girls champion assumed this flaw was down to the classic “over-the-top” move on the downswing. But it wasn’t.

“When we first put Vikki on Trackman, her swing through impact was actually one-degree in-to-out,” continues Nicol. “The real problem was her clubface pointing four degrees left at impact. So the ball would go straight left. Now she knows for certain that, if she curves a shot to the left, the problem is her swing-path. If she pulls one straight left, it’s the clubface.”

There was but one depressing aspect of the day’s proceedings, at least for this old-fashioned observer. Using a modern, metal-headed “frying pan” driver, former British boys champion Lee Vannet – now based at the Craibstone club, near Aberdeen – racked up some impressive numbers on Trackman. Then, wielding a persimmon-headed driver borrowed from a watching dinosaur (yes, it was me), the same swing instantly lost about 15mph in ball speed, which translated into shots 40 yards shorter. Sadly, at least when it comes to pure distance, science does trump art every time.

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